Our guide looked at me and laughed. “You really love the mountains,” he remarked.
“Of course I do!” I respond excitedly and without a second thought. “Who wouldn’t?!”
“No, but you really love the mountains,” he countered, in a way that I couldn’t quite tell if he was teasing me for being a keener or admiring my affection.
As if directly answering that thought though, he continued, “You can tell. And when you love our mountains, we are thankful.”
I had heard before we came that this is the sacred land of the Sherpa people, but no one can quite explain the way their ownership and pride for their home is palpable. I think you have to stand on these foothills and spend time with them to even begin to understand that. Many Sherpa people become mountain and trekking guides for the practical reason that tourism is the largest (and most lucrative) industry in this developing nation, but much of their motivation stems too from the belief that sharing these lands and this beauty with visitors is part of their sacred duty.
I just kept my gaze fixed straight ahead, incapable of anything less than a huge smile - still in awe, thinking to myself that there’s nothing in me that would allow me to not be completely in awe and taken aback by this kind of beauty.
This mysterious, bellowing, powerful, and almost intimidating beauty. And the ways that this beauty whispers and screams almost simultaneously of God’s goodness, power, and closeness.
It was that thin space between the dark of night and the light of the day: where the freezing cold air seemed to lose a bit of its bitter edge with each passing minute and every glimpse of sunshine over the domineering peaks. We had reached basecamp the previous day and this morning I had woken up early to catch a panoramic view of the Everest Range. As I did, I stood in the silence and made my way up a small side step that gave me the highest view I could find while maintaining sure footing, my eyes trying desperately to memorize every part of this vista: trying to retain the way the dark shadows of the mountain range mixed with the glowing and increasingly warm colours of the morning light making its way slowly over the horizon.
I wanted to remember every part of it: the smell of the crisp alpine air and the freezing temperature, the laboured breaths, and the way that the harsh wind made my whole face feel numb, but yet not so harsh that I could even dare imagine looking away.
I’d spent the past few days trying to memorize the deep blue alpine sky, the moodiness of the clouds that would move in and out of the mountain valley in mere minutes, and the strength of the sun’s rays when hiking at that high of an elevation. I wanted to remember every detail about this adventure: the collapsing into my tea house bed exhausted, eating Dal Bhat for multiple meals a day, meeting people from all over the world, the way Ginger Tea tasted like the best thing on the entire planet, long conversations with one of my dearest friends, laughing and processing and praying our way through every part of being in an unfamiliar city and country and in the backcountry of the Himalayas, the hours – when disconnected from the rest of the world - to just soak up Scripture, and the best schedule in the entire world when your whole day revolves around hiking.
There’s nothing about the Himalayas that is subtle.
We hiked for a few days before we reached the “foothills” – mountains that themselves were profoundly noteworthy. But as you climb steadily higher and higher in elevation - trading dense evergreen forest and rainforest groves for rocky glaciers and limited fauna above the tree line - the peaks only seem to grow in stature and grandeur: jagged, powerful, and domineering.
These thundering masses of rock covered in masses of snow larger and taller than major buildings in most urban centres stand all around, their glacial siding almost metallic looking in the bright sun.
I spent the entirety of our time hiking in awe, with one dominant thought that I couldn't get past: His love is higher and wilder than the Himalayas.
I stood on a massive glaciers, looking out at the wildest mountains my mind had ever seen and I couldn’t even begin to understand that. That these belowing peaks were only a glimpse of the depth and width and power of this wild and relentless love. I tried wrap my head around the reach of His majesty and splendour: but it's unknowable and unfathomable in the most incredible of ways.
Eleven days of hiking felt like stepping into a song that creation has been singing since He breathed these Hills into being: a song of His indescribable worth.
All of creation stands in awe, as if it knows there’s nothing else we were made to do but stand baffled and humbled by this beauty for which words will forever fail. His thoughts are higher. His ways are better. The best we have is because of Him. The worst we have is redeemed by him, anchored in Him. Emmanuel is here: the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls. The Majestic King is our Redeemer: the very God for whom the mountains melt like wax. When we see his face - even the tiniest glimpse of him - everything changes. And so we worship: In all things. All places. All contexts. All moments.
From sea level and the depths of the ocean to the world's tallest peaks, to the ends of the earth, just down the street, and everywhere in between: His love is wild and His love is here and His love sets us free.
I think Nepal has been a part of me for a long time in a way that I've never been able to articulate. It was a place I felt homesick for before ever setting foot within its borders. This trip only solidified that - like finding a piece of my own heart tucked into those majestic mountains. Seemingly disparate pieces of my story seemed to click together a bit while sipping tea with a group of incredibly resilient and beautiful Nepalese women, worshiping in prayer houses with friends from all over the globe, and the way that the streets of Kathmandu felt oddly familiar even though I had never walked them before.
It changed me. It echoes still.
Not solely because of Nepal itself, even though that is a part, but because of the timing of this trip and the way that the whole trip was joy and redemption with a depth and reach I'm (still) not able to convey. Because of the way God used that space to make Himself known in new and deeper ways.
I’ve been home for over six months now, immediately thrown back into the busyness and rhythms of life on Canada’s west coast, work trips to the other side of the country, weddings and engagements and baby showers and parties and courses and days at home and summer by the water and hikes in the Coastal mountains and fall in the Okanagan, and the ever-changing and wonderfully surprising realities of life.
But I think about Nepal often. Wake up missing those streets, the glow of the yellow sun setting over the Kathmandu Valley, and the chilling and enlivening power of the Himalayas up close. I wear the cobalt blue scarf that I was so generously given to me by those women (whose inspiration seeps into my life if ways they'll never fully know) all the time and every time I do, I feel - for even a passing moment - that I'm back.
I've long known that there’s a part of me that comes alive in the developing world. That a part of my heart ignites when surrounded by a culture that is not my own, a language I don’t understand, and dusty streets that aren’t easily navigated. Where physical poverty removes much of the polish or comfort of wealthy Western life, where the heartbeat of humanity feels a bit more raw, a bit grittier, and in so many ways, particularly beautiful. Maybe the madness is part of the magic. Amidst the chaos and dirt, there’s a fire to life that too quickly fades in the cleanliness and almost-sterility of the west. My life has been so profoundly shaped by other cultures and contexts, that homesick is a nearly constant feeling, regardless of where I am.
So being in Nepal was, in some ways, like going home. A reset button. A three-week section of taking a step back and stepping into one task: awe and wonder. And, without question, those three weeks marked my life. I don’t know how else to say it. If the beauty of travel is the way that it shakes us out of our routines, opens our eyes to live with more focus and wonder, then Nepal accomplished that task ten-fold. It was the sweetest gift.
The challenge of travel and adventure is here though too. How do we ensure that those things remain even after we settle back into the everyday spaces where we live our right-now, walking-around lives? How do we hold on to what stirs in our heart when we’re away? How does these extraordinary days point us to the reality that all of life is holy and the "ordinary" is equally lined with His presence and an invitation to live fully in His joy?
Because we don't just climb mountains or fly to the other side of the world for the sake of adventure. We don't pursue the beauty of creation for its own sake. Creation was never meant to sing its own song or speak to a grandeur that it holds in itself. These mountains don't stand with a power that echoes to make much of the wilderness. The vastness of the ocean and the thundering glory of the waves don't pulse to draw attention to themselves. The beautiful diversity and colour and difference of the world's cultures do not exist to make much of huma It all exists: every part of it, if even just a whisper or a moment, to point us to the unfathomable beauty and power and majesty that is Jesus: to the God of the Nations. It's all for Him.
Mountains are the language of my soul.
I still remember the first time I saw the Canadian Rockies: mountains that in every way feel like home to me now. I remember so distinctly how my 15-year old heart felt more alive that I knew I could standing in the midst of those peaks, surrounded on all sides by snow-capped granite peaks, turquoise lakes, and dense forest groves.
It was beauty and freedom and power in a landscape. A glimpse into the unfathomable character of the very God who breathed these landscapes into life. It was awe made manifest in a physical surrounding, resonating more deeply in my heart and mind than I could every fully articulate. I remember feeling free and alive and so hopelessly taken with who Jesus was. It was a space that changed my life - and remains the thinnest of places for me – where the grace and goodness and power and majesty of Jesus feel almost close enough to touch.
Nepal is that now too: joining the ranks of the Rockies and the Coastal Mountains as the most profound spaces where God has met with me.
The Himalayas hold a wonder that I want to hold on to for the rest of my life. An invitation to worship. A reminder that awe is both a responsibility and also the greatest of joys. To live with eyes open to the wonder and whimsy around us. With a relentless pursuit of the heart of this God who is so baffling in the scope and depth of His character and goodness. With a steady delight in His gospel that turns everything upside down and yet is the only thing that makes everything make sense too.
His love is higher and wilder than the Himalayas.